An Interview with Rick Rocamora, photojournalist, on current conditions in Manila.
Eddie Wong: Tell us about your recent trip to the Philippines. Was it on a photo assignment and family visits? What time period was the trip?
Rick Rocamora: My trip was to finish a book project, a documentary on the Sigma Rho fraternity, which I joined in 1963 when I was a student at the University of the Philippines. I was in Manila to raise the money to fund the publication before the end of the year. I had to cancel some appointments because of the Enhanced Community Quarantine ordered by the Philippine Government all over the Luzon Region which includes Metro-Manila.
I raised 60% of my goal but missed my chance to visit Vargas Museum where the exhibit and launch of the book is scheduled before the end of the year. I changed plans immediately after the quarantine and luckily I was able to get a flight out before Philippine Airlines cancelled all their domestic and international flights. I have to go back when things settle down to finish my work and work on a project scheduled for exhibition next February at the Ayala Museum.
Manila. March 2020. Photo by Rick Rocamora.
Eddie Wong: When did the COVID-19 outbreak first become an issue in Manila and what measures did the government take?
Rick Rocamora: As the world watches developments in many countries, the government immediately organized measures to contain the spread of Covid 19. While they lack test kits, preventing contacts is their primary concern. Social distancing is required, working at home is encouraged, and movement was curtailed to a minimum. All food, pharmacy and medical institutions were allowed to continue. Public transportation were not allowed to continue, creating a transportation problem for employees required to go to work and for the frontliners working in hospitals having difficulty to do their assigned duties. The guidelines changed day-to-day, including transportation to go to the airport. Luckily, I was able to arrange a ride before the day of my departure.
Eddie Wong: How are people coping with the crisis? Are they on lockdown like in China and other countries?
Rick Rocamora: Lockdown varies depending on the area where you live. Those with their own transportation can still run errands and do minimal business trips. Those is poor neighborhoods are in total lockdown and residents were not able to earn a living. After several days, the typical Metro-Manila traffic is gone and major roads were empty.
Eddie Wong: Life must have been precarious for poor and working people in normal times. What are the major concerns now about access to food, clean water, health care?
Rick Rocamora: Poor neighborhoods will have a harder times not only because of restrictions but also because of lack of funds. Many survived on a daily basis and once they cannot earn any for the day, they have to find a way to get food. At the University of the Philippines, the Student Council is raising money for the rank and file workers and poor neighborhoods near the campus. The government is trying their best to augment the needs of those who are heavily affected by the quarantine order. Big business are donating money to help and with a new law giving the government the power to quickly solve problems; there is a good chance that some semblance of assistance will happen soon.
Rocamora with displaced high school students of Marawi City in Mindanao
Eddie Wong: How can people in the U.S. lend aid to people in the Philippines?
Rick Rocamora: The best way is to send cash donations to legitimate organization targeting specific communities. The health workers are in need of supplies to protect themselves from contamination. Here’s one organization that has a local impact: https://www.projectpearls.org/donate. (Editor’s note: Here’s a description of the project from the website:
In this pandemic time, please know that Project PEARLS continues to provide food for hundreds of hungry children and for some elderly at our community in Tondo, Manila – EVERYDAY! We are also providing groceries for our scholars in Bulacan and Cavite whose communities are also on a lockdown. There is no source of income for these families of garbage scavengers and blue-collar workers and they need our help.
Editor’s note: Rick sent an email to me to add this group for your consideration.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic and heightened community quarantine in Luzon, members of various sectors in the University of the Philippines community have been affected, including their own safety and day to day sources of income.
The University Student Council is extending its help to the dormers, maninindas, and jeepney drivers through a donations drive.
Please browse through the photos for the details (donations needed, drop-offs, etc).
You may also kindly donate in cash for the MANININDAS, JEEPNEY DRIVERS, and members of the UP COMMUNITY through the following details
No one should get left behind. Keep safe, everyone!
Rick Rocamora also has an extensive photo essay drawn from his archives to illustrate his GMA Networks essay Metro-Manila’s Most Vulnerable Amid Covid 19
Rick Rocamora is an award-winning documentary photographer and author of four photo books; Filipino WWII Soldiers: America’s Second Class Veterans, Blood, Sweat, Hope and Quiapo; Rodallie S. Mosende Story, Human Wrongs, and Alagang Angara, a book that highlights the legislative achievements of Senator Ed Angara that continues to benefit our people and nation after his passing. His work is part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Arts, U.S. State Department Art in Embassies Program, and private and institutional collectors. His work is widely exhibited in national and international museums and galleries, published in print and online and aired in various broadcast news outlets. In the Philippines, his work had been exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Ben Cab Museum, Vargas Museum, and Ateneo Art Gallery. His exhibition, Bursting at the Seams: Inside Philippine Detention Centers won national and international awards for Filipinas Heritage Gallery of the Ayala Museum. Before pursuing a career in documentary photography, he worked in sales, marketing, and management positions for the US pharmaceutical industry for 18 years.
Gridlock in Manila. March 2020. Photo by Rick Rocamora.
Editor’s Note: Dispatches are bulletins from near and far as we cope with the public health crisis engulfing people across the globe. Tell us your story and show us how you feel about struggling to create a better world while living amidst great uncertainty. Submit by going to Contact Us, which is on the menu bar underneath the masthead.